A man pulls down his suit sleeves.

Work Clothes: Do’s and Don’ts

Navigating the intricacies of workplace attire, especially for those new to a job or even seasoned employees, can be a daunting task. Despite many companies providing a defined dress code, there often remains a considerable amount left unsaid.

Finding the balance between professional attire and the desire for comfort is crucial. The workplace dress code is significant, but prioritizing personal comfort is equally important.

Wondering about the dos and don’ts of workplace attire? Let’s delve into the guidelines.

What are Work Clothes?

Work clothes encompass attire suitable for the workplace but not typically worn in personal life. While interpretations may vary among workplaces, business owners and managers generally agree on the definition.

In personal settings, attire tends to be more casual, with choices like shorts, skirts, and sleeveless shirts in the summer and jeans and sweatshirts in the winter. However, the office environment usually adheres to a dress code, whether leaning towards casual or formal, making the selection of the right clothes a nuanced task.

Finding the Right Balance: Professionalism and Comfort

When contemplating what to wear to the office, it’s essential to strike a balance between adhering to the workplace dress code and ensuring personal comfort. This delicate equilibrium is crucial for creating a positive and productive work environment.

Incorporating “Work Appropriate Clothes” and “Business Attire”

Understanding the distinction between work-appropriate clothes and personal attire is key. In a professional setting, it’s essential to prioritize business attire that aligns with the workplace’s expectations. This includes outfits that convey professionalism while being comfortable for the demands of the job.

When in doubt, consider the nature of the workplace and the specific dress code in place. Whether the environment leans towards a more formal setting or embraces a more casual approach, ensuring that your choice of attire is both “work-appropriate clothes” and “business attire” will contribute to a polished and respectful appearance.

What Types of Clothes are Deemed Work Clothes?

The types of clothing you should wear to work depend entirely on the dress code of your workplace. However, even within the dress codes, there is typically a little wiggle room to express your style.

Keep in mind that even in the most casual of environments, shorts and tank tops are typically not considered work attire. This, of course, depends on where you work and what type of environment you are in.

In most offices, the expectation is that you dress comfortably and professionally. But what does this mean exactly?

A woman in an orange form-fitting dress and heels talks on the phone.
There are many different levels of work attire depending on where you work. 

What are the Different Levels of Work Attire?

Many times when you start a new job, one of the first things you want to know is what the dress code is. This is helpful to know what you should and should not wear when you are in the workplace.

Oftentimes, however, the guidance that you get is not as helpful as it should be, especially when the dress code is defined by the different levels. This is because even though the levels are somewhat helpful, it can be frustrating to not understand what is expected of you.

Check out the different levels that define how you should dress in the workplace:

1. Casual

Some businesses promote a casual dress code to their employees but sometimes forget to define what that means exactly. This can cause some employees to decide for themselves how to dress for work.

In many cases, especially depending on the generation you are in, the casual dress code can be misinterpreted in many ways. Those who are of an older generation may not feel comfortable dressing casually in the office, whereas those who are younger believe casual dress to mean shorts and t-shirts.

If you are a business manager, you may want to consider this and define what casual attire should look like. This will keep all generations on the same page when it comes to casual dress.

Casual dress often includes anything from jeans and t-shirts to even shorts and t-shirts as long as they fit the environment. This means that if you work at a beachside shop, shorts and t-shirts are probably more appropriate.

2. Business Casual

A business casual dress code often leaves people wondering what exactly they should be wearing in the workplace. Do you dress in business clothes? Are jeans considered business casual? Do they mean slacks, skirts, and a nice shirt?

These are often questions that companies get when they promote a dress code of business casual. In most cases, this should be defined so employees know exactly what the dress code means.

Oftentimes, business casual means not wearing a business suit. This then leaves it open somewhat to the employee to decide what is both business and casual.

Most companies who have a business casual as their dress code mean this to include dressing a bit nicer than jeans and a t-shirt. For some, this includes slacks, skirts, and jeans if they are paired with a nice shirt, sweater, and even casual jacket.

3. Business Professional 

This type of workplace dress code is typically reserved for the most professional of businesses. It could also be that the owners or managers are of a different generation who believe that professionals should look professional all the time.

When a company promotes a dress code that is business professional, this often includes business suits for both men and women. It also means that the person should be well-groomed and presentable at all times.

Oftentimes for men, this means wearing their business suit that has been carefully pressed either at home or sent out to the dry cleaners. Shoes are typically expected to be in good condition and give them a look of professionalism.

For women, this often means business suits that can either be pants, skirts, or dresses that are topped with a matching business jacket. If wearing skirts or dresses, many companies require hosiery to be worn with professional shoes to match.

The Importance of Knowing your Workplace Dress Code

Knowing what your workplace expectations are when it comes to dressing code is important for all levels of employees. This is typically because the expectations can be somewhat different depending on the job you have.

In this ever-changing world, businesses and employees alike are having to change their mindset about what it means to be in the workplace. This includes knowing what they should and should not be wearing. 

The biggest questions, however, are what direction most companies are heading when it comes to dressing code. While in some businesses, the call for a more professional work attire is important, other companies have moved for a more casual environment.

Here are some things you should know about the dress code depending on the position you currently hold:

For Employees

Depending on the type of environment you are working in, employees may be allowed to dress slightly differently than management. For the most part, this can include a more casual dress code that honors both personal style and the work environment.

For Managers

The expectation for managers, however, is often seen differently since they are expected to dress the way they want to be seen. If a manager is dressed too casually, employees may not take them as seriously, whereas if they are dressed too professionally, they may be intimidating.

For Business Owners

The owners of a business, while they technically can dress however they want since they own the place, are often expected to be well dressed. This is especially true if you are working in a corporate environment.

Even though these are the more common social norms that define the dress code for various positions, in recent years this philosophy has been challenged. More and more people are seeing that clothing is much less important than the work that is being done.

Work Clothes: Do’s

Whether you are starting a new job or have been working in your company for some time, it is important to know what you should be wearing to work every day. While some companies opt on the side of a more casual dress code, others tend to lean towards the more professional side. 

Whatever the expectation is for your workplace, here are some of the most common do’s for work clothes that you should keep in mind:

1. Do be Aware of the Dress Code

One of the most important things you should remember when you are picking out your clothes for work is whether it is covered under the dress code. If you are not sure, then you may want to opt for the side of caution and choose something else.

2. Do Dress for the Weather with Layers

Whether it is warmer or cooler weather outside, or inside the building may be a different story. Opt for both professional and casual pieces of clothing that you can layer so you can be comfortable both inside and outside.

3. Do Opt for Neutral Colors if you Wear Hosiery

When it comes to hosiery, you should always think about keeping it neutral. This is because whether your environment is casual or more professional, you want to keep the attention on you and not your legs.

4. Do Choose Fitted Clothes

While you do not want your clothes to be skin-tight, you must present yourself with work clothes that fit well. A nice tailored suit, blouse, or pants go a long way to making you look well put together in your workplace.

5. Do Wear Sensible Shoes

When you begin to choose the footwear you are going to wear with your outfit, you may want to think about comfortability instead of just how they look. This is because you will most likely spend the greater part of your day either on your feet or, at the very least, in your shoes.

Pink flip-flops sit on the beach.
Flip-Flops are a huge no when it comes to work attire. 

Work Clothes: Don’ts

On the other end of the spectrum, there are certain things that you should never wear to the workplace, even if your office errs on the side of casual. In the same way that you take care of what you do wear, you should also pay attention to what not to wear.

Take a look at these common tips of what you should never wear in the workplace:

1. Don’t Wear Skimpy Clothing

Keep in mind that you are going to work, not out clubbing with your friends. Whether the dress code is professional or casual, you never want to dress as though you are about to go hit the town.

2. Don’t Dress in Overly Bold Prints and Colors

Stay focused more on what the dress code suggests is allowed rather than making a bold statement with your clothing. It is never a good idea to wear clothing that is so bright or bold that people are talking about it for weeks.

3. Don’t Hide Your Personality or Femininity

Many people get so caught up in making sure they are following the dress code in their workplace that they forget that they have a personality. This can also be true for women who hide their femininity in work clothes instead of embracing who they are.

4. Don’t Go Too Casual in the Summer

Just because it is summertime does not mean that you should dress for work like you are going to the beach. While it is important to be cool and comfortable, it is a big mistake to wear something that is meant only for weekends to work.

5. Don’t Wear Flip-Flops…Ever

As stated previously, wearing sensible shoes is important, however, you should always avoid flip-flops in the workplace. Not only are they loud coming down the hallway, but they send the wrong message to customers and coworkers alike.

Tips on How to Know What to Wear in the Workplace

If there is anything to be learned from the recent pandemic, it’s that dressing for success can look different for everyone. This means that more and more people learned that they are much more comfortable in casual attire while working than dressing to impress other people. 

But, as employees headed and are still heading back into the office for work, they often question how they should dress. While there are often dress codes in place, many are looking for a way to bring the casual dress they were accustomed to wearing into the workplace.

Here are some important tips on how to dress when coming back to work:

How Are Others Dressing?

Take the time to observe how others are dressing in the workplace to help you determine how casual or comfortable you can dress. This is especially important when you are new to the workplace since the precedents have already been set.

Try Something New and Observe the Response

Don’t be afraid to step out of the norms of the office and try something new. While it is not recommended to go completely off the norms, it is okay to try new things and then observe how others respond.

Authenticity vs. Workplace Norms

There is something to be said about being your authentic self and following the expectations of the work environment. Depending on the dress code in the workplace, you should find a style that helps you to stay within those norms, while also being your authentic self.

Challenge the Status Quo, but be Careful 

Oftentimes, people dress the way they do in the workplace because others dress the way they do. You should feel free to challenge the workplace dress code norms, but also keep in mind that you should skate on the side of what is appropriate.

Ready to Re-Evaluate Your Work Clothes?

Now that you have a better understanding of what you should and should not wear to the workplace, you should be ready to start piecing together your outfits. If you are someone who works remotely, some of these can be modified, however, it is important to ensure that you are adhering to professional boundaries even when working from home.

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